Should gig workers choose flexibility or protections?

Discussion
Getty Images/nrqemi
Dec 13, 2021

A European Union proposal that was introduced last week promises to elevate the debate about whether and how to grant more employment rights to workers in the gig economy.

Under the EU rules, which need approval by the European Parliament, a business platform that meets at least two criteria will be deemed an “employer.” Individuals working for that company will be reclassified as “workers” with rights to a minimum wage, pensions and basic benefits. Companies will have to disclose how their software systems make worker decisions.

“With more and more jobs created by digital labor platforms, we need to ensure decent working conditions for all those deriving their income from such work,” said EU EVP Margrethe Vestager in a statement.

Companies such as Uber and Deliveroo contend that the reclassification would raise costs for consumers and cause job losses as hiring full-time staff will ultimately result in fewer drivers working longer hours.

Uber said in a statement, “Any EU-wide rules should allow drivers and couriers to retain the flexibility we know they value most, while allowing platforms to introduce more protections and benefits.”

According to The New York Times, gig companies prefer the path of countries such as France and Italy, where unions are negotiating guarantees.

Pew Research Center’s just-released “The State Of Gig Work In 2021” study found 78 percent of U.S. gig workers being at least “somewhat positive” with their job experiences, including 24 percent being “very positive.”

A majority in the survey agreed gig platforms have been very or somewhat fair when it comes to how their jobs are assigned (72 percent) and with their pay (64 percent), with the views split on benefits (50 percent). The less-desirable job parts were seen as rudeness, safety threats and sexual harassment.

A McKinsey survey of 25,000 Americans taken this past spring, however, found that 62 percent of contract, freelance and temporary workers would prefer permanent employment. McKinsey found the findings not unsurprising given that such workers were more likely to say that they had suffered decreased income over the past 12 months and nearly twice as likely than others to say they could not afford health insurance.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is the ideal labor structure for gig workers permanent employment, contract employment, contract employment with unionization or something else? Would the touted benefits of flexibility and a sense of being one’s own boss from gig work likely be lost with a shift to permanent employment?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I keep hoping someone will innovate and find a middle ground where protections are provided but gig workers do not have to become employees to be eligible for them."
"I believe freelancers of all kinds could benefit from “union” (or “co-op”) representation. In today’s world there should be an app for that..."
"What is billed as the “gig economy” is, too often, really the “gouge economy” from a worker’s perspective."

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16 Comments on "Should gig workers choose flexibility or protections?"


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Christine Russo
BrainTrust

Yes (to all). As a society, we seem to have difficulty processing more than two options – everything is binary and that is no longer applicable and will not be applicable for our future society. This thinking is so embedded in everything. It requires a much bigger and deeper change.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Even today’s instant poll doesn’t give the option of choosing “Yes, to all.”

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

Contract employment, like it is now. The gig economy works this way because it was built this way. Once you add in more stuff (permanency, unionization, etc.) the dynamics are going to change and it will crash and burn. Yes, we know there are issues – better screening may help those issues. Taking away the flexibility and independence will not fix those problems.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

The gig economy was built to take advantage of workers. If a company can’t give those who make their company possible appropriate protections, they should not exist.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

See, I would argue just the opposite. I would say that the current store model is built to take advantage of workers, and any step made to improve their lot in life (like reducing the number of hours required to get benefits of any kind) is met with whining and crying from trade associations. It’s not for nothing that front-line workers basically said “Take this job and put it somewhere else. I don’t want it.”

At least gig workers have control and aren’t demanded to come work at the last minute because someone calls in sick.

Phil Chang
BrainTrust

I concur, Paula. To add to your comment, consultants and contractors that are also part of the gig economy — we choose to be here, and know where the balance is so we can protect ourselves and give our clients the best of our talents. I think what needs to happen when new gig workers start, is a “conversation” about what is fair. What is the employer giving, and what is the gig worker contributing. At the heart of all exploitation is one side not having a clear view of what’s involved.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

I keep hoping someone will innovate in this space and find a middle ground where protections are provided but gig workers do not have to become employees to be eligible for the protections. The flexibility is critical for those seeking a “side hustle” to supplement their income, while those seeking income equivalent to full-time employment typically need more protections. If this middle ground exists please let me know, as I haven’t heard of it yet.

Jeff Weidauer
BrainTrust

There isn’t likely to be an ideal labor structure for gig workers. Gig workers have many reasons for doing what they do, and I suspect the flexibility aspect is high on the list for many. The challenge is that the more protections are put in place, the less flexibility the worker has, which undermines their reason for choosing the gig option.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I once cautioned a young man who was thinking of leaving his job and starting his own that the one downside was that even if it was a failure, he would never want to go work for someone again. To me one’s freedom is the most important value in the work experience.

However with regard to all gig workers there is no one ideal. It depends on personal situations. Unfortunately, the companies that have a business model based on the gig worker (by definition) are surely taking advantage of the desire or need for workers to have some flexibility.

There must be protections. They don’t have to be complex — basic income, healthcare, on the job protections. Of course if the U.S. had universal healthcare that would be no issue. How many fully employed workers would vote for freedom if healthcare wasn’t an issue?

Employers must have responsibility and not have business models based on taking advantage of workers.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Just plain contract employment. I really think the thing in California was way overblown. Yes, I think it’s in tune with the times to say “I’ll work when I feel like it.”

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

“Being your own boss” doesn’t mean you can pay your bills. These are workers, period full stop and they need to be treated as well as any other worker. What is billed as the “gig economy” is, too often, really the “gouge economy” from a worker’s perspective.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Absolutely, “what is billed as the ‘gig economy’ is, too often, really the “gouge economy” from a worker’s perspective.”

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

The relationship between workers, unions, and government regulations is very different in the European Union than in the U.S. What works in one area is not necessarily the best choice for another area. In the U.S., some gig workers like the flexibility and having control over when or how much they work. However that does not mean that employers should take advantage of the workers. If they work full time hours, they deserve to make a living wage and have full time benefits. If they choose to not be full time and to have more flexibility arrangements can certainly be made for employees working an average of 32 hours a week to receive a level of benefits, those working 20 hours a week on average could receive a different level of benefits, etc. with everyone receiving the same hourly wage. Then workers can still be in control of their choices but still be able to receive a living wage and proportionate benefits.

James Tenser
BrainTrust
As any freelance writer knows all too well, gig work comes without fringe benefits and “flexibility” is a two-edged sword. It gets tricky to manage when several clients have overlapping and highly variable demands. It gets worse when clients withhold or alter payment without cause or recourse. Gig workers face similar challenges. I have noted many drivers with both Uber and Lyft decals in their windows. They are putting a living together by working for both services. Similar for DoorDash and Uber Eats delivery people. If this is today’s reality, which contract employer should be expected to provide health coverage and PTO? The definition of “full-time employment” gets slippery too, for workers paid by trip or per delivery. I believe freelancers of all kinds could benefit from “union” (or “co-op”) representation. In today’s world there should be an app for that — with built-in gig-tracking, access to fairly-priced group health insurance, disability coverage, and a way to accrue and consolidate PTO hours. All in proportion to the services delivered on behalf of each gig employer.… Read more »
David Biernbaum
BrainTrust

One of the reasons GIG is successful is because of what it’s not. Strictly from a consumer perspective, once the concept transforms to employment, unions, and other developments that cause the service to be less flexible, more expensive, and more restrictive, it will start to lose some of its appeal. I’m sorry, but it’s true.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Hard to take seriously a survey which lumps together “very” and “somewhat”…I guess I’d call it somewhat completely useless.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I keep hoping someone will innovate and find a middle ground where protections are provided but gig workers do not have to become employees to be eligible for them."
"I believe freelancers of all kinds could benefit from “union” (or “co-op”) representation. In today’s world there should be an app for that..."
"What is billed as the “gig economy” is, too often, really the “gouge economy” from a worker’s perspective."

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